Innumeracy Book Summary - Innumeracy Book explained in key points
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Innumeracy summary

John Allen Paulos

Mathematical Illiteracy and Its Consequences

4 (55 ratings)
14 mins

Brief summary

In "Innumeracy" by John Allen Paulos, the author challenges readers to explore basic mathematical concepts and improve their ability to reason and make decisions based on numbers. This thought-provoking book uncovers the problems that stem from being ignorant of math and advocates for a more numerate society.

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    Innumerate people have trouble grasping basic mathematical principles and often fail to react appropriately to everyday events.  

    It’s rare to hear people openly admit to illiteracy; yet it’s quite common to hear someone acknowledge that math was his worst subject, or shrugging and saying that he’s simply not a numbers person.

    But innumeracy – that is, lacking the basic notions of math – is nothing to boast about.

    Being innumerate has a host of negative consequences, one of them being an inability to react appropriately and make accurate judgments in circumstances involving numbers and probability.

    An incapacity to determine whether a figure in a given context is big or small makes innumerates prone to personalizing, when their numerical intuition is prejudiced by their own experience.

    For instance, the probability of being eaten by an alligator is quite low, although it does sometimes happen. But an innumerate person might read a news story about such an event and develop an irrational fear of alligators, ignoring any statistical evidence demonstrating that gator attacks are a very rare occurrence.

    Another negative effect of innumeracy is the inability to grasp the implications of simple mathematical principles.

    Let’s take the multiplication principle, which holds that if we have m different ways of making a choice and n different ways of making a subsequent choice, then we have m x n different ways to make these choices in succession.

    To apply this elementary concept to an everyday situation, we would be able to conclude that a woman with five shirts and three pairs of pants would have 15 (5 x 3) outfit choices for any given day.

    Going even further, the multiplication principle would yield the conclusion that if the woman were planning her outfits for an entire week, she would have 15 choices the first day, 15 the next day, and so on, or a total of 15⁷ choices that’s 170,859,375 options!

    Innumerate people, however, might reject the truth of this number and believe that it’s ridiculous that a few shirts and pants could result in such an incomprehensibly large number.

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    What is Innumeracy about?

    Innumeracy (1988) explains how an aversion to math and numbers pervades both our private and public lives. By examining various real-life examples of innumeracy and its consequences, the book offers helpful solutions to combat this irrational and misguided fear of math.

    Innumeracy Review

    Innumeracy (1988) by John Allen Paulos is a thought-provoking book that sheds light on the widespread problem of mathematical illiteracy and its consequences. Here's why this book is worth reading:

    • With compelling examples and clear explanations, it exposes the dangers of innumeracy and the importance of mathematical knowledge in our daily lives.
    • By illustrating the ways in which numerical ignorance impacts decision-making, the book challenges readers to improve their numeracy skills and avoid common pitfalls.
    • Its accessible and engaging approach to a typically dry subject keeps readers captivated, ensuring that they never find the book boring.

    Best quote from Innumeracy

    It would be very unlikely for unlikely events not to occur.

    —John Allen Paulos
    example alt text

    Who should read Innumeracy?

    • Anyone convinced that they’re not a numbers person
    • People interested in everyday applications of math

    About the Author

    John Allen Paulos is a Professor of Mathematics at Temple University in Philadelphia. He is the author of many other books, including A Mathematician Reads the Newspaper, and has written for publications such as The New York Times and

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    Innumeracy FAQs 

    What is the main message of Innumeracy?

    The main message of Innumeracy is the importance of understanding and recognizing the effects of mathematical illiteracy in our daily lives.

    How long does it take to read Innumeracy?

    The reading time for Innumeracy varies depending on the reader's speed. However, the Blinkist summary can be read in just 15 minutes.

    Is Innumeracy a good book? Is it worth reading?

    Innumeracy is a thought-provoking book that highlights the significance of numeracy in today's world. It's definitely worth reading to gain a better understanding of how numbers shape our decisions.

    Who is the author of Innumeracy?

    The author of Innumeracy is John Allen Paulos.

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